There is a propaganda war being waged, and it is largely one-sided.
This is, as always, a good read.
Thomas Barnett has it right:
Americans swallow enemy propaganda at face value, subjecting us to knee-jerking manipulation by fiery orators. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with a few choice phrases, successfully elevates himself to the status of a Muslim "Hitler." But this populist windbag is already losing his grip in Tehran, giving Washington a strategic opportunity we don't yet appreciate.
It's not merely Americans who do this, but the West in general. We are so used to the fiction of objectivity in the news - a fiction, not reality - that we believe that everyone behaves in this manner. After all, the last great propaganda war was that of the SovUnion: the ChiComms have abandoned theirs largely.
But it gets better:
Suffering the world's worst brain drain and a birth rate that's dropped through the floor, Iranian society is imploding before the world's eyes, triggering a resurgent domestic reform movement that's now aligned with pragmatic conservatives determined to arrest the nation's downward spiral.
Externally, however, Iran is peddling influence across the region, quietly executing regime-building investment strategies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and southern Lebanon. Iran's oil revenue is creating development all right, just not back home where increasingly angry Iranians want it.
Slap these dichotomous images together, and you can't help but wonder at the similarities between today's Iran and the Soviet Union in the late Brezhnevian period: the blustery facade of regional domination covering a system rotten to its spiritual core.
This really is the key to current and future developments: the increasingly obvious case that can be made for the inherent severe weakness of Iran. The analogy between the two (Theists in Iran and the CPSU in Russia) is not perfect, but it servves the point: Iran, as I've stated here before, is not going to have an easy time of sustaining its development, let alone making the jump to nuclear power.
If I were to fault Barnett's analysis, it is that he postulates that Iran will be have rationally and in its own enlightened self-interest.
Of that I am not too sure: to paraphrase Joshka Fischer, "Mr. Secretary, I am not convinced".
There is, after all, the risk that a status quo will develop for the next several years, one where the internal politics of Iran get sidetracked and while the government in power (whatever form it might be) is embroiled into solving the problems that theocracy has created for Iranian society (poor economic opportunities, squandered billions, lack of adequate infrastructure), that the mainstreams of Iranian theocracy will be content to work in the background, supporting whatever role they play in the establishment of the New Caliphate. Not that the Iranians are Arabs, but they see in many ways the world with the same set of blinders. They would rather be in bed with a Shi'ite than to have secularism become the dominant philosophy.
Let's remember the basic plan that the theocrats have: seven steps to establish the Caliphate.
1) Awaken Muslims to their heritage and plight.
2) Open Their Eyes: Force the West to make it their problem, i.e. force the West to become involved. The greatest threat here is that the West yawns and basically says "so what?", choosing not be engaged at all. Terror attacks will make this highly unlikely.
3) Arise and Stand Up: make terrorists and their organizations part of the body of Middle East politics, i.e. the legitimization of terror, or more exactly, the establishment of the terror groups as legitimate players. This is what Hamas and Hisbollah are trying to do in Lebanon: become part of the political scene.
4) Collapse of Arab Tyrants: the destruction of not merely the politicians of the various countries, but literally the destruction of a functioning political system. This means that Democracy in Egypt (such that it is) is as doomed to destruction as the Hashemite King in Jordan, as well as the Royal Family in Saudia Arabia and elsewhere.
5) Declaration of the Caliphate: with the state withering away, the Mullahs and their tools will ascend into control.
6) Confrontation: As complete and total a war as the Islamists can pull off. The West will be too weak to be bothered to fight it properly, i.e. the Will of the West is to have been broken at this point, weakened by the years of conflict.
7) Victory and the subjugation of the World. By defeating the West and re-establishing the Caliphate, the Caliphate will have re-established the ancient glory of Muslim society whose collapse and destruction has haunted them ever since. The West will abdicate its role in the world and retreat, becoming dhimmi.
Now the question: what is to be done?
The strategy against the establishment of the Caliphate has to do with 3 and 4: deny terrorists their role in politics and strengthen states in the region, preventing the political and social chaos that would develop in the wake, for instance, of destroying the Jordanian royal family, either literally or figuratively. That is the kingpin to the success of the theocratic plot: deny them this, and they cannot succeed.
But now we are still in 1 and 2 (and feel free to think, if you want to be a fool, that these steps can only be taken one after another: up to 5, they are supposed to run parallel and with varying speeds), with some 3, while 4 is being worked on.
After 5 we have truly serious problems. That is the war that the theocrats want, and indeed must have to reach their goals.